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How to truly empower your employees

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How to truly empower your employeesEmployee empowerment is a challenging goal for many managers. Providing workers with increased autonomy involves taking a risk and giving up a degree of control and hands-on supervision. But not allowing them to make their own decisions when appropriate is a potentially even bigger problem, because in today’s knowledge economy, companies need workers who can quickly and confidently take the initiative to further the organization’s goals.

Encouraging this kind of confidence and independence is more important than ever because firms are less hierarchical – there are fewer middle managers to direct employees and tell them how to perform their jobs. This trend toward a team-based work environment is also driving the need for staff who can make decisions and apply creative thinking in their roles. In order to function effectively, workers must have an appropriate level of authority.

Although most business owners and managers understand that empowering employees is important and desirable, many are uncertain about how to go about actually putting it into practice. The following suggestions can be used as a starting point for your own efforts.

Connect individual roles to collective goals.
Your employees should understand how their work advances the company’s objectives and contributes to the bottom line. Take the time to educate them about all aspects of your business. Regularly share current financial results, long-term objectives, market share information and other relevant statistics. Make sure they know who your customers and competitors are. This type of information gives employees a big-picture context and helps them understand the direct link between their daily efforts and the continued success of the organization.

Delegate authority.
Give staff the authority they need to make decisions and perform their jobs without continuous managerial oversight or input. Set clear standards for performance results, but avoid trying to dictate specific methods and techniques – also known as micromanaging. Give personnel room to discover their own individual methods to approach their work and the freedom necessary to achieve their goals. Keep in mind that the degree of independence you grant should correspond to each person’s level of experience. Not every employee will be comfortable with a high level of autonomy — some team members may require more guidance from you. Let them know that they can continue to ask questions and seek your feedback.

Encourage participation.
As employees generate good ideas and workable solutions to problems, they should be encouraged to share what they’ve learned with one another and with management – and they shold be recognized for their contributions. Through periodic meetings, email updates, online newsletters or even an old-fashioned suggestion box, you can give people avenues to communicate their expertise and recommendations. Make sure to respond in a timely manner to questions, concerns and ideas. If your staff feels ignored, your efforts will eventually backfire.

Provide resources and support.
One mistake managers commonly make is to delegate authority without providing sufficient organizational backing. This is actually one of the most disempowering things you can do, as it sets the stage for failure. Give employees the tools they need to handle a wide variety of situations, which may include technical training or help in areas such as communication, problem solving and decision-making. For example, once you train your customer service staff how to evaluate and resolve complaints, they can use their discretion in specific instances to waive late fees or offer discounts to preserve relationships with long-term customers.

Permit mistakes and failure.
Empowered workers are enabled – that is, they can experiment, innovate, create, succeed – but they can also sometimes fail. Be willing to accept a certain amount of error as part of the process. Don’t give up – instead, analyze problems and determine how to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Rather than immediately blaming individuals, look first for weaknesses in your efforts to offer them increased autonomy. Did you give someone more authority or responsibility than he or she was ready to handle? Was sufficient training provided? Were goals and expectations clearly stated?

Although empowerment can initially seem more risky and less reliable than the traditional, top-down approach to management, the time and effort you invest will result in employees who are motivated, loyal and committed to the success of the organization. Their innovative ideas will help your company achieve its goals and expand its advantage over competitors.

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